Chicago Bears’ 2017 Positional Needs: Cornerback

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan (37) deflects the ball before it gets to Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan (37) deflects the ball before it gets to Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears had some serious problems at cornerback last season.  Injury, ineffective play and undeveloped talent have caused a lot of issues for them at the position.  With a lot of question marks at cornerback, the time to try to shore up the position is now.

The Bears pass defense struggled in 2016.  They gave up big plays and directly contributed to two losses while being a part of allowing the team to lose more games.  What used to be a dynamic and stable position, with guys like Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher, has become a revolving door of instability.  And the Bears cannot afford to not pay any attention to this position in the draft or free agency.

What options do the Bears have at the cornerback position?  Should they draft one (or two) of should they use free agency to fill their needs?  If they draft, how early should they take a cornerback?  Just how serious is the need?

Chicago must do something to shore up this position.  But what should they do?

There are the three usual methods for acquiring player.  You have free agency, trades and the draft.  The Bears may not go the trade route so we could rule that out. The Bears are not a strong trading team.  But they should be able to find some talent in free agency and the draft.  The question is, will they address this position in 2017 or wait until later?

The time to fix this position is now.

The following is a look at some options the Bears have at the cornerback position this off-season.  We will look at what they already have on the roster, who they can through free agency and who they can draft.

Opinions, as always, are welcome.

Nov 9, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Chicago Bears strong safety Ryan Mundy (21) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) celebrate during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 9, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Chicago Bears strong safety Ryan Mundy (21) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) celebrate during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears have several players on the roster that will remain under contract into the 2017 season.  These are the guys that they will probably decide to keep and use.  However, there may be a couple of salary cap casualties out of this group.

Tracy Porter has become somewhat of a liability and this was evident last season.  He’s got a strong veteran presence but is injured often and while he doesn’t miss much time, his injuries really hamper his ability to play effectively.  And he is on the downside of his career.  Should the Bears keep him one more season or let him go?  They really can’t afford to let him walk because they don’t have an adequate replacement.  But he’s not the guy he used to be.

Kyle Fuller made a lot of waves during the 2016 season for not being able to return from a knee scope he had in the pre-season.  He received some criticism from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio but General Manager Ryan Pace made it sound like he is in their plans for 2017.  But will he be healthy and will the Bears tolerate what they experienced with him in 2016?  Is he reliable?

A possible scenario for Fuller is that he could be traded to a willing partner.  But who will take him?  There aren’t too many teams that would want a guy that didn’t seem motivated enough to play.  It’s going to be a tough call with him.

Sherrick McMannis has been a quiet help at cornerback and should remain with the team.  He does struggle to crack the starting lineup but does provide good depth.  McMannis is very valuable on special teams which means he will probably stay on the roster in 2017.

Deiondre’ Hall is coming off his first NFL season, a season in which he played in just eight games.  The Bears will hope that he is healthy enough to contribute in 2017.  He has some good skill and ability but needs some experience to develop and help improve the Bears secondary.  He’s a keeper.

Rashaad Reynolds was signed to the practice squad at the end of December.  He’s going to be in training camp when the Bears open it up and has a shot to make the team.  He’s not going to crack the starting lineup but he can provide some depth.  At the very least, he will be a training camp body.

Jacoby Glenn saw some action last season and was hot and cold.  He will get a shot to make the team and should have a great chance at sticking.  He proved that he can play but still has a lot of learning to do, like most of the guys at cornerback (on the Bears).  Could he even earn a starting spot?

Cre’Von LeBlanc is a player this writer has mixed feelings about.  His numbers are good but when you watch him play he looks terrible sometimes (does anyone else see this?).  He’s still young and has a lot to learn.  He could grow into a starting role someday and the Bears will give him every opportunity to make the team in training camp.  LeBlanc could even be the team’s nickel back in 2017.  He should easily make the team and be a contributor in 2017.

DeVante Bausby played in four games for Chicago in 2016 spending the rest of his time being shuffled to the active roster and then to the practice squad.  He’s another guy that’s going to get a shot at making the roster.  Bausby could land as a backup/special teams player when the final roster is settled before the start of next season.  He has some talent but just hasn’t put it together yet.

Just about all of these guys should make it to training camp.  But which one’s will make the active roster in 2017?  That’s a story for another day.

Nov 26, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) rushes with the football as Chicago Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan (37) defends during the fourth quarter of a NFL game on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 26, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) rushes with the football as Chicago Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan (37) defends during the fourth quarter of a NFL game on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears have just three guys that are going to be free agents this off-season.  It’s hard to tell what they plan to do with them right now but we can take a guess as to what their plans might be.

Jonathan Banks was brought in late last season and given an opportunity to play.  He came into the league with a lot of promise but hasn’t quite delivered.  Did he show the Bears enough in his brief time in the lineup to warrant giving him a contract?  It’s tough to tell.  It’s not going to be a matter of money with him it’s going to be roster room.  Does he have the talent to earn a trip to training camp this summer?

Brandon Boykin spent the entire season on injured reserve after suffering a pectoral injury in training camp.  He has experience and could end up back with the team if they deem him healthy enough.  The Bears brought him in on a one year deal last off-season but didn’t get a chance to see what he could do.  Will they give him another shot and another contract?  Or will he be walking away this off-season?

Bryce Callahan is an exclusive rights free agent this off-season.  Callahan has been injured often throughout his time in Chicago but has shown flashes of consistency.  He plays very physical and that’s a big reason why he spends a lot of time on the sideline with injuries.  If he looks like he can stay healthy they may bring him back on a one year deal and see what he can do.  He’s got the experience, and knows the defense.  He could still be an asset.

It’s not out of the question to think that all three of these guys might be back.  Banks and Boykin have good talent while Callahan has been a nice player when he’s healthy.  Boykin and Callahan have health issues, however, so if Chicago figures they can’t stay healthy consistently, they won’t spend money on them.  Banks may the only sure thing here.

Jan 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) celebrates during the first quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Oakland Raiders at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) celebrates during the first quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Oakland Raiders at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at the free agent market for the cornerback position, you will see that there are a few guys that could interest the Bears.  This writer’s top five free agent cornerbacks include (in no order):

Malcolm Butler-New England

A.J. Bouye-Houston

Logan Ryan-New England

Trumaine Johnson-Los Angeles

Stephone Gilmore-Buffalo

Through the media, the Bears have been linked to Bouye and Gilmore but are those are just rumors?  Ideas and wishes perhaps?  Chicago has more than enough money to spend on free agents so money won’t be an issue.  But they don’t want to overpay for a cornerback.

Which one of these five athletes would be the best for the Bears?

Butler may command too high of a price and New England may decide to keep him anyway.  But will they keep both him and Ryan?  It also seems like whenever a player from the Patriots goes to another team, they aren’t as good as they were in New England.  I am sure fans and experts have noticed that (Matt Cassel among others).  Could that trend continue with Butler and Ryan?

After watching several Houston Texans’ game this season, it has been seen that Bouye has shown himself to be solid.  He has performed well in almost all situations (witnessed) and would be an upgrade over Porter.  But he doesn’t have a long track record of success and has been more of a “one year wonder”.  Can he continue that success in Chicago or will he fall flat?

Gilmore is an interesting prospect but his previous two seasons have been opposite of what Bouye has experienced.  Gilmore was great in 2015 but struggled in 2016.  Can he find the magic that he had in 2015?  Would the Bears be smart signing someone who has been slipping?  Can they afford to take that risk?

Finally, you have Johnson, a guy who is very strong in coverage but not so well-adept in run support.  He can cover most any receiver and a guy that can do that is someone the Bears must have.  But will he be a liability against the run?

Which one of these guys should the Bears take a shot at?

I think that Johnson is the Bears best bet although Bouye is a close second.  They could be happy with either of them.  And they both would be an upgrade over what they have right now.

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) tackles Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) tackles Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft is a place the Bears can find help at cornerback.  Starting talent is typically found in the first three rounds but the Bears will probably won’t be looking for a cornerback too early.  There aren’t any worth taking at number three but Chicago could trade down and grab one in the middle of the first round.  Picking up some extra draft picks would be a big plus.

Chicago can either go for starter or for someone to let develop over the course of a season or two.

In looking at some possibilities at cornerback in the draft, let’s look at one prospect in the first three rounds (one each rated first, second and third).  Then, let’s check out three more they could be interested in, in the later rounds.

Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore is rated as the top cornerback in the 2017 NFL Draft.  Maybe the Bears would take him at number three?  There is probably not a chance, for that he’s not worth the third pick in the draft.    It’s possible they could trade down a little bit, picking up additional picks and get him a little later.  But is it even feasible for the Bears to take a cornerback in the first round?  Maybe not.  Other needs outweigh the need for a cornerback.

A more likely scenario, if the Bears don’t take a quarterback in the second round, is that they could take a cornerback.  This would also hold true if they didn’t get one in free agency.  Picking early in the second round should give them a shot at most of the second round rated corners.  Who is the best of the bunch in the second round?

Iowa’s Desmond King has turned a lot of heads, especially NFL scouts, and could prove himself worthy of the Bears pick in the second round.  Some of the talk is that he could convert to safety and that wouldn’t be bad for the Bears.  They could use him at either of those two positions.  Would Chicago have any interest?

One of the better third round cornerback prospects is Colorado’s’ Chidobe Awuzie.  Some draft experts think he could go even earlier than he is currently projected. But if he was to last until the third round, he could be a steal.  He is a physical corner that could shut down receivers and he could adapt very well to the NFL.  He plays the run well and has a lot of starting experience.

Now, let’s look at three prospects who could be drafted by the Bears in the later rounds (rounds four through six).  Three names that stick out the most include Colorado’s Ahkello Witherspoon, Florida State’s Marquez White and Missouri’s Aarion Penton.

These late round prospects could be developed over the period of a season then step in and be effective contributors in 2018 (hopefully).  They could play in a pinch due to injury, as well, and provide the Bears some depth and hope for the future.

The NFL Draft is a great place to find talent and the Bears need to strike it rich in the draft.  If they can find the right cornerback(s), they can set themselves up for the long-term.

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